Freedom Riders and Bus Boycotters: Threads of a Story
Inspired by the historic 2008 presidential election, Brooklyn painter Charlotta Janssen was looking for a way to pay homage to the people who helped paved the way for the first African-American president of the United States. Janssen discovered the unadorned, grainy head-shots of the people who peacefully resisted segregation in the American South and was compelled to recreate them in her own vision. What resulted is a heroic series of portraits of the courageous American citizens known as the Freedom Riders arrested in 1961. Exhibited intentionally alongside Eric Etheridge’s photographs of Freedom Riders, these large-scale color portraits pay homage to those who faced an oppressive system with non-violence and present a deep mix of emotions in each portrait: fear, joy, anger, triumph, and innocence.
“At first my work re-imagined discarded and archival photographs of poor and working class Americans taken before, during and after the Great Depression. While at once cautionary, my images attempted to celebrate both the individual dignity and group solidarity of my subjects. Furthermore drawn to the tension between the stoic formality of the age–as expressed through uniforms, suits, dresses, hats, machines, architecture, etc.–and the piercing drama of facial expression, I sought to create images that are as humanistic as abstract. Working in acrylic, oil, and rust, I pay homage to the hard lines of comic artist Bob Kane (Batman) and the work of Grant Wood (with an urban bent) and Francis Bacon, in giving new life to the vibrant deteriorating photographs of a past, but all too prescient era.
“In 2009 I started working from my own photographs, maintaining the stark composition from the photographs of times gone by, yet introducing more seemingly light-hearted themes.
“In 2010 the Freedom Riders took ahold of me. Mug shots that had preserved the reciprocity of confrontation – being confronted by injustice whilst confronting it for its injustice drew me in. Intuitively I added collage to convey a feeling for the time and the severity of the moment these images were taken, creating a context of noise and music.”